2013 CAPA Summer Movie Series (Columbus, OH)

It’s my favorite time of year in central Ohio, or nearly. CAPA, our local arts organizing group, has announced its lineup for the 2013 Summer Movie Series held in Downtown Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre. For those of you unfamiliar with this seasonal gem, the June 28 through Aug. 25 series features a plethora of classic movies shown in the theater that was originally built as a movie house and is now used for concerts, ballets, etc.

Among this year’s offerings are two Hitchcock movies, which you know delights me. The wonderfully amusing The Trouble with Harry, To Catch a Thief and the Jimmy Stewart rendition of The Man Who Knew Too Much will certainly be on my schedule.

Other prize showings include An American in Paris, Grand Hotel, Citizen Kane, Bonnie and Clyde, The Thin Man, 1974’s The Great Gatsby, and Touch of Evil.

I have been notoriously bad about achieving all the CAPA Summer Movie Attendance goals I have set in years past, and I won’t pretend this year will be any better. I do hope to at least catch the Hitchcock flicks, but I’ll admit The Man Who Knew Too Much won’t be at the top of my list.

Housewife

Dullsville

Housewife (1934)

Housewife (1934)

In the olden days, women stayed at home, raised the kids, planned parties and didn’t ask what their husbands had been up to when they were “working late.” The subject made a great movie in the form of 1936’s Wife vs. Secretary, but in 1934 it did not make for an enjoyable subject as Housewife.

George Brent‘s Bill Reynolds is in the advertising business. He thinks very highly of himself as the office manager for an advertising agent, but his boss does not think terribly much of him. His wife Nan (Ann Dvorak) has become an expert at running the household on his small salary. When the boss hires a new copywriter in the form of platinum blonde Bette Davis‘ Patricia, things change.

Bill had known Patricia in high school, which is the same time he started dating his wife. Patricia went off to New York and became a big deal advertising writer. So big that she is given her own office at Bill’s firm, whereas he only has a desk outside the boss’ room. His old acquaintance –who had a thing for him back in the day– symbolizes the success Bill lacks.

When Bill gets a bright idea about marketing a client’s beauty cream at double the price by saying it is “double strength”, the boss cares not. Convinced of the brilliance of his idea, Bill takes the plunge and starts his own ad firm, eventually luring away the cosmetic company. Patricia joins the businessman in the new venture and both become very successful. The change is great for Nan as a more fashionable life takes over at home. What Bill is doing during those late nights at work, however, might drive her into the arms of another man. No worries, however, the near ruin of their relationship will mend the Reynolds’ bond and they will spend their lives dreamily gazing into the sunset.

I editorialized a bit on that ending for Housewife to illustrate how pathetic a conclusion we are presented in this flick. Despite the title of the movie, the husband and not the housewife occupies the most screen time and stands out as the story’s protagonist. We see more how his life is changed than how it affects the housewife. And given a choice between exotic and young Davis and home-based Dvorak, I think we’d all be choosing the former.

The story lacks the passion and emotion of Wife vs. Secretary and Brent is probably partly to blame there. Whereas Myrna Loy made us love the housewife for her loyalty and fun-loving personality, we find nothing much to like in Dvorak’s character.

Housewife is one of the 11 movies Brent and Davis made together (See also So Big and The Old Maid). That is more than most on-screen teams did together, yet one does not think of the two in the same vein as Hepburn and Tracy. For starters, at this juncture in their careers, Brent was filling bigger parts while Davis was a supporting player. As time went on and Davis finally got noticed for her talent more than her looks, the woman would become the headliner, such as in Dark Victory. It is a wonder a woman of such great talent spent so much on screen time with a man of such great looks, but nothing more.

Shadow of the Thin Man

Ring a Ding Ding

Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)

The sleuthing team of Nick and Nora Charles were bound to find themselves in the midst of a gambling racket at some point in their on-screen careers. As movie history teaches us, gambling and bookies only lead to murder and further crimes, and in Shadow of the Thin Man our favorite detective comes out of retirement yet again to solve the convoluted case.

It is a wonder the writers at MGM could come up with a new and enthralling murder case for each of the six Thin Man movies, yet they do it again here using the same formula as the others. The key to the stories is the overabundance of characters, which in some cases are difficult to keep track of, and a mystery that gets further compounded with subsequent murders and crimes to the point that no viewer can deduce who the one culprit is. But that is why we have Nick Charles.

A portion of the comedic enjoyment of Shadow of the Thin Man is that although Nick (William Powell) is again insisting on his retirement from the sleuthing business, he happens to keep finding himself at the scenes of the crimes. At the start, the Charles’ are at the racetrack where a jockey is found killed –a jockey who was asked to throw the race. The press jump to the conclusion that Nick is on the case because of his proximity, but he denies any involvement. Later, while at a boxing match, Nick is again just a floor below another shooting murder of an unscrupulous reporter and his assault on an honest journalist.

The Charles’ are friends with the honest newspaperman and Nick agrees to get involved in part to prove this Paul (Barry Nelson) is innocent of the shooting of reporter Whitey (Alan Baxter). As the case progresses, complete with untrustworthy women and hoodlums, Nick discovers the first murder was not what it seemed, but he won’t let the public know that. His shrewd technique leads to the familiar ending with the entire cast of characters in one room, waiting for the guilty man to reveal himself and to try to kill Nick.

I have noticed as progressing through the Thin Man movies that Nick has become and increasingly bad alcoholic. At the start of Shadow of the Thin Man, Nick is out with Jr. (Dickie Hall) in the park across the street –reading him the racing form. Looking to get her husband home, Nora (Myrna Loy) starts shaking a cocktail mixer. This causes the distant Nick to remark: “Nicky, something tells me that something important is happening somewhere and I think we should be there.” The maid also notes that Nicky is becoming more like his father everyday: “This morning he was playing with a corkscrew.”

Nick’s drunkenness is always inserted for comedic relief and usually peters out as the story goes on and the stakes become more serious. Nevertheless, I don’t think I am stretching the truth in saying our favorite crime solver was often the worse for wear and not in an admirable sense.

  • Shadow of the Thin Man is set for 1:30 p.m. ET Dec. 18 on TCM.

Weekend’s Best Bet Continued…

In running through TCM’s lineup for this weekend, I came across far too many good flicks to list in my regular viewing recommendations in the left column. Not only are there a number of gems showing this weekend, but I have already written about a few them. So click on the links below to learn more about the movies and consider checking them out yourself this weekend. P.S. All times are Eastern Standard Time and on the U.S. programming schedule.

The Public Enemy
6 am Saturday on TCM
James Cagney, Jean Harlow

The Saint Strikes Back
noon Saturday on TCM
George Sanders, Wendy Barrie

Dinner at Eight 
8 pm Saturday on TCM
John Barrymore, Marie Dressler

The Thin Man
10 pm Saturday on TCM
William Powell, Myrna Loy

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner 
2 am Sunday on TCM
Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

 San Francisco
8 am Sunday on TCM
Clark Gable, Jeanette MacDonald

A Day at the Races
10 am Sunday on TCM
The Marx Brothers

Witness for the Prosecution
noon Sunday on TCM
Marlene Dietrich, Tyrone Power

The Naughty Flirt

Dullsville

The Naughty Flirt (1931)

If Myrna Loy was not in The Naughty Flirt, there would be no reason to watch it. This story of a beautiful, young and popular girl does nothing but dissatisfy. Thankfully, Loy adds some flavor with her dark, conniving character in this flick made early in her talking picture career.

In this thankfully short flick, pretty but pathetic star Alice White plays Kay Elliot, a young rich thing who starts the movie on her way to night court with a group of friends who are being delivered via paddy wagon for their night of drunken tomfoolery. One of the other arrestees, Jack Gregory (Douglas Gilmore), suggests he and Kay get married while in court, having already procured the marriage license. His sister, Linda (Loy), has a strange attitude about the “proposal”, which we will later come to understand.

Despite her best intentions, Alice fails to marry Jack while in court because her father’s employee attorney Alan Ward (Paul Page) is in the room and phones the old man about the impending incident. Alan takes Kay home and the girl tries to flirt with him, to his sheer annoyance. From here on Kay makes it her mission to land the man who finds her frivolous. He is eventually tricked into accepting one of her invitations to dinner on the pretense it is in fact her father’s birthday party. It is not.

Kay does hook Alan at this event, much to Jack and Linda’s chagrin. Linda has been plotting to have her brother wed Kay merely to access her money. At a later retreat, the sister connives to trap Alan in a compromising position by feigning illness in bed. The other tenants of the vacation home walk into to find the two in close company on her bed, prompting the first of several break ups for Kay and Alan.

The biggest problem with The Naughty Flirt is that White makes Kay the most unlikable girl imaginable. We can have no respect for her reckless life and find it hard to believe she genuinely likes this gent. Why Alan falls for her is a mystery, and the movie would have produced a more satisfying ending if he had pulled the Philadelphia Story move and knocked her to the ground via a shove to the face. But to our disappointment the characters eek out a happy ending.

Loy is wonderfully different as Linda. Far from the “perfect wife” she would become, Loy with her dark hair and eyeliner brings a smouldering edge to her somewhat sinister part. She puts on a great show and is possibly the best actor in the whole film. That being said, unless you’re looking to check a movie off your Myrna Loy list, The Naughty Flirt is ideal for now viewer.

Night Flight

Ring a Ding Ding

Night Flight (1933)

I had never heard of 1933’s Night Flight when I stumbled upon it in a sales pile at Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago. I’ve tried to train myself not to buy movies on a whim without knowing whether they are good, but the cast for this one was enough to secure its purchase. Besides love of my life Robert Montgomery, the cast also features John and Lionel Barrymore, Myrna Loy and Clark Gable, to name a few.

The story starts with a plot element that we will all but forget before the picture is over. A child at a hospital in Rio de Janeiro teeters on the verge of death from a virus, but doctors assure his mother that because of a new night flight schedule, the life-saving serum he needs can be delivered from across the continent by the next morning.

Now move on to the main story: the plight of those pilots tasked with the treacherous duty of flying mail planes across South America. The trip is dangerous enough during the daytime as Auguste (Montgomery) discovers as he flies the serum and other packages from Santiago, Chile ,to Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires is the headquarters of the delivery outfit where company president A. Riviere (John Barrymore) stressfully monitors all pilots’ progress. Auguste hits a nasty storm going over the mountains and at one point gets sucked down close to the rough terrain but thankfully makes it to his destination alive.

The package in question and other mail will not leave immediately for Rio de Janeiro from Buenos Aires because another flight is due just in time to ensure the load will leave by midnight. Flying that plane is Gable’s Jules. We will never see him outside of his vehicle and he has surprisingly little dialogue because he communicates with his radio operator via notepad, sending messages to headquarters. His path takes him from southern Chile to Buenos Aires, but he and his radio man encounter a surprise rain storm en route. They are thrown off course and also must battle a fleeting fuel supply. Jules’ wife, Simone (Helen Hayes), knows her husband’s schedule well and becomes distraught when he is late.

A “Brazilian Pilot” (William Gargan) is aroused from his sleep to take the night flight to Rio de Janeiro, leaving worrying wife (Loy) behind. He thinks the only value of night flight is to allow someone in France to get a post card two days earlier than normal, not realizing he is carrying a life-saving serum.

The bulk of the acting heft in Night Flight comes from the two Barrymores. John is a hard-nosed businessman who defies the company board in insisting on the overnight program. Lionel comes in as an “inspector” of some sort who is there as a counterpoint to Riviere’s tough tactics, trying to draw compassion from the man.

All scenes with John take place in his office, a dark room that is literally only lighted by “moonlight” from outside and a desk lamp. The darkness of most scenes in the picture leaves the audience feeling the weight of the night as much as the pilots do. We yearn for the dawn to bring with it safety in the same way they do. The office scenes are also often shot from waist height across the room or closeup low angles. This leaves the viewer feeling less like he is in the scene with the characters and more as an unwelcome spectator.

As with all movies featuring flight, Night Flight contains impressive footage of aerial maneuvering. Day for night shooting was apparently used for the flick, but unlike most picture that take this approach, the fakeness of night was unnoticeable.

The movie was apparently one of Gable’s lowest-grossing pictures. Interestingly, he is scarcely in it. He utters only a few lines of actual dialogue and is never seen outside his plane. A surprisingly small role for such a big star, but given the magnitude of the remainder of the cast, it might be understandable.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Wowza!

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948)

Despite being such a great romantic lead, Cary Grant spent a portion of his career playing very convincing family men. Grant is probably the husband and father we all might prefer to have, as he often played these parts subtly fighting for his position as man of the house while still convincing the women around them that he revered them. In Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Grant takes charge of his family’s living circumstances only to be tripped up at every step along the way.

As Jim Blandings, Grant and his family live in a good-size apartment in New York City where he works in the advertising business. Despite living his whole life in the cramped metropolis, the man is starting to get fed up with sharing a tight bathroom with is wife Muriel, played by Myrna Loy, and the lack of closet space in part because of his two daughters. Seeing an ad promoting a country life in Connecticut, Jim makes up his mind to buy a home there instead of let his wife remodel the apartment for $7,000 on his $15,000 annual salary.

The city slickers get duped into buying a run-down “fixer upper” type home for $10,000 that has so many problems it ultimately must be demolished. The couple draw up plans for a new home with an excessive number of closets and bathrooms at a price tag of $11,000. Mishaps galore ensue that continually add to the cost of construction. The bills are driving Jim mad and the couple almost pulls out of the plan but a sketch of the proposed home is too perfect to walk away.

In the midst of this work is family friend and attorney Bill Cole, played by Melvyn Douglas. The man continually advises the family against their initial efforts but supports them regardless. In one scene when the skeleton of the home is in place, Jim and Muriel hear a pounding sound just after the workers have left the site. They ascend to the second floor where they find Bill had become locked in a closet and was there pounding a bucket against the floor. Mr. Blandings insists this special closet made just for him works perfectly. He goes in, closes the door, and comes out. Wanting to illustrate to Muriel the simplicity of an exit, he invites her in, and all three become trapped inside. Jim breaks the window in the small room to secure their freedom just as the door creaks open on its own.

As the hardships of homeownership surmount the family, Jim is struggling at work because of a new account for Wham brand ham. He spends a torturous night at the office trying to find a new slogan. Meanwhile, Bill has been forced to stay the night in the new home because bridge flooding has trapped him in Connecticut. The storm has also trapped the Blandings kids at a neighbor’s house. Muriel assures us from the get go we do not have to worry about an affair, but a jealous Jim is not so convinced in the morning. The house might cost Jim his job, send the family into bankruptcy and destroy a marriage, but the Blandings will endure.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House reminds me of The Money Pit that also dealt with a couple’s endeavors to repair an old house. The latter is the sort of movie that can be too frustrating for some people to watch. This classic, however, is more tolerable because it brings more heart and spots of happiness to the screen and drives its characters to a lower degree of madness.

The best part of the movie is the witty dialogue and wonderful acting by Grant, who brings back shades of the screwball era in which he prospered. Loy stands in as the ever-devoted wife, who is not beyond making a financial mistake here or there. Douglas is charming and has his fair share of comedic lines as he watches the mistakes of his friends bite them in the ass.

Mr. Blandings is certainly among my favorite Grant movies. It helps that Loy is there to back him up, but the man really stands out as the star of this comedy.

  • Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House is set for 8 p.m. ET Sept. 4 on TCM.
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